Coffee Talk with Barista Media - Issue #2
COFFEE TALK WITH KERRY LYONS, CEO OF RIPPLE STREET
Kerry Lyons leads the team at Ripple Street (formerly House Party, Inc), a consumer influencer platform that connects brands with consumers to drive targeted trials, product reviews, social shares, branded content, insights and more. Barista Media sat down with Kerry to talk about influencer marketing, teaching today's marketing-savvy students, and how she approaches her new role as CEO the same way she runs her household of seven people (and two dogs). (Hint: It's all about trust and support.)
When consumers have a positive experience with a brand, they want to share it.
-- Kerry Lyons, Ripple Street
Q: Ripple Street uses a micro-influencer or peer-to-peer approach to marketing, connecting brands directly with their fans to create ripples throughout their own communities. How is this different from the influencer model of branding?
A: At Ripple Street, we think of influencer marketing like a pyramid – with celebrities (like Kim K) at the top, paid content creators in the middle and everyday consumers – often referred to as micro-influencers or peer to peer influencers -- at the bottom. That’s where our community lives; we connect real people – everyday consumers – with the brands they love to drive targeted trials, authentic product reviews, branded consumer content, insights and more.
Rather than label the Ripple Street community of everyday, passionate consumers as “influencers”, we prefer to focus on the “influence” they have over their social circles online and off. According to Nielsen, 92% of us trust the recommendation of a friend or family member over any other form of advertising. At a time when trust in traditional advertising is declining and skepticism about the top two tiers of influencer marketing is growing, the ability to harness the voice of authentic consumers at scale is paramount to marketers. And that’s what we do at Ripple Street – we get a brand’s biggest fans talking, trying, sharing and buying their products. That’s a very different kind of “influencer marketing.”
Q: Ripple Street used to be House Party — How has the company evolved since the early House Party days? What's the biggest challenge Ripple Street faces on a daily basis with regard to the media industry and how it works?
When House Party launched over thirteen years ago, the media landscape was in a very different place. Our first clients -- Nickelodeon, Microsoft and Kraft – to name a few, delighted in seeing consumers enjoying and sharing their brands via authentic in-home parties. Today, the ability to activate targeted consumers to throw branded parties at scale is still our unique point of difference but, as our corporate entity, the name “House Party” didn’t convey the totality of what we do. As the broader media landscape has evolved, we have too. We have a community over a million strong, a rebuilt digital platform that’s at the core of everything we do, and brands come to us for a range of goals that may include sampling, reviews, social shares, branded content and, of course, those authentic, at-home parties, too. We’ve always been about connecting consumers with brands and giving them a great experience – because when consumers have a positive experience with a brand, they want to share it. And that sparks a ripple effect. Hence, our move to Ripple Street.
Q: Are you seeing more success selling your programs directly to clients or to agencies? It seems like your business proposition aligns well with PR agencies – are you seeing a lot of success here as well?
A: Our business is about 60/40, client/agency – although, it’s not uncommon that if we sell a program in on the client side, an agency gets involved in the execution. We do indeed work PR agencies – particularly when the goal is to generate millions of those authentic, earned, consumer to consumer impressions and really create a buzz. But we also work with consumer promotions, sampling, social, digital and shopper agencies – and their counterparts on the brand side. We’ve seen a lot of growth in Shopper Marketing of late because our platform helps brands bridge the gap between online, at-home and in-store. As many CPG brands struggle with how to drive shoppers in stores and down aisles, we have the unique ability to do just that – at scale and with measurable sales impact. As consumer behavior shifts to more online shopping and the “Amazon effect” continues to grow, brands really need to forge emotional connections with consumers; they need to provide relevant experiences with compelling reasons to shop – in-store, online or both.
Q: Not only are you the CEO of Ripple Street, you’re also an Adjunct Professor, a runner, and a mom of five children, three of whom are triplets — how do you do it all?
A: The honest answer is that while I strive to do it all well all the time, I can’t. No one can. I do my very best in all aspects of my life but over time have come to embrace “progress over perfection.” Every day I make progress – some days more than other. There’s an old saying that “you can always find time to do the things you love,” and I really believe in that. I get up early and run with friends a few days a week; that way I’ve had “me time”, “friend time” and exercised all before the kids get up. As for my “side hustle” as Professor Lyons, it’s been a great way for me to share my expertise while also gaining great experience should I want to pursue a second career or next chapter in academia.
As for the CEO role, it’s a gift. I have the benefit of years of experience at House Party coupled with the renewed energy of Ripple Street and a team that’s smart, fun, and committed to growing our business. That being said, it’s also a challenge – my expertise lies in Marketing and Sales. The CEO role comes with a lot that’s new to me – finance, legal, HR, and technology. The best advice I would give anyone who is new to the CEO role (or any other leadership position for that matter!) is this – don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know it all and don’t be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you. I’ve done both and I believe our business is better for it.
As for my family, yes, I do have five kids. And two big dogs and one very patient husband. My time with them is precious. And the reality is that as I’ve ramped up as a CEO, I’ve had less of it. The good news is that they are all supportive. They see how hard I work; they know what a great opportunity I have, and they always seem to know when I need a hug. Which is good – because some days I really need one!
Q; You’ve worked at House Party/Ripple Street since 2011, and were recently promoted to CEO. How has this changed your day-to-day routine?
A: Since becoming CEO, I get to work earlier, get home later, travel more and work on weekends so it’s been a big change to my day-to-day routine. But there are some things I won’t compromise – I won’t give up my morning runs. I won’t miss an event at one of the kids’ schools and I will (almost!) always pick up the phone when my kids call. We’re all human. Life happens. And my home life collides with my work life daily. It’s not easy but I’m raising kids who believe that Mom can do anything, and I work with a team that helps me get it done. When I first stepped into the role, someone asked me how I was possibly going to take on all the responsibilities that come with being a CEO. I thought for a moment and then said, “Well, I suppose I’ll have to manage this business a lot like I manage my home life. I can’t be a helicopter parent. It would be impossible. And I can’t be a helicopter CEO either. Like my kids, I will trust that our team is going to do the right thing and get the job done. But, like my kids, when they hit a bump in the road, I will be there to support them and help solve the problem. So far that strategy is working pretty well – on all fronts!
Q: Tell us about your Marketing class at Mercy College. What’s the most important thing you want to be sure your students know when they complete your course?
A: Last semester, I taught a Marketing 101 class to a group of Business Honors students. I co-taught with a colleague and friend so that made the workload a lot more manageable! Our class was remarkably intelligent, accomplished and articulate – and they deserved better than the text book they were given that had ToysRUs on the cover; the retail giant had gone out of business before the semester began and much of the content in the book (which was published in 2012) was out of date. We taught them the basics that were required (like the 4Ps) with a hearty dose of current trends and case studies we shared to provide an integrated approach to marketing strategy.
These kids were savvier than I will ever be; having grown up with social media to inform and entertain them, they know when they are being marketed to and they know that in many ways, they have control – they’ve seen firsthand the impact of viral video, the power of the consumer voice and the shifting shopper landscape. What I wanted to impress upon them was something greater than a grounding in marketing today but a desire to always be on the lookout for tomorrow – to read, to network, to be curious and to never stop learning and growing. I think they got that -- and I know they will go on to do great things.
Q: Would you recommend other media executives consider teaching as well?
A: Yes, I’d suggest that other media/marketing/advertising executives consider teaching – it’s an industry that books can’t keep up with and more and more universities seem to acknowledge the value of the real-life experience we bring.
Q: What book, blog, podcast, or streaming media are you enjoying right now?
A: For the first time in years, I’m reading a few business books… being a new CEO does that to you! In thinking about Ripple Street’s long-term vision and strategy, I’ve been referring to Blue Ocean Strategy, by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, which has tools and tips we’re leveraging in our strategic planning process. With the newly re-focused client-first mindset that I’ve been instilling across our business, I’m reading Jobs to be Done, by Anthony Ulwick. And as I try to better understand the finance function, I was given a great book called The Accounting Game, by Darrell Mullis and Judith Orloff, that really breaks it down and makes it fun. Yes, I did just use finance and fun in the same sentence. I can hardly believe it myself.
Given that summer is here, I also have a few beach reads in the queue: I’ve started Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, and am also working my way through Exit West, by Moshin Hamid.
Full disclosure though: while I have great intentions of reading on planes or before bed, it’s rarely for more than a few minutes before I nod off. Again, progress, not perfection. I’m making a dent in my reading list and thankfully summer has only just begun so hopefully I’ll get some beach reading in before it’s over!
Q: Now for a personal question. How do you take your coffee and what's the best dish you like to pair it with?
A: My relationship with coffee has very much evolved with my career and my life…
It started my junior year in college with my first cup as an intern at a PR agency in Philadelphia. It was dark and bitter with that powdery “creamer.” Just awful.
At my first job out of college, a friend introduced me to flavored coffee – French Vanilla and Hazelnut really stuck. Literally. To my fingertips. After a few years, I couldn’t take the lingering scent of my morning coffee and moved on.
Next up: as my agency career grew, I became the Account Director on the Splenda business. I bid a fond farewell to sugar and was a hardcore skim milk and Splenda gal for years.
Then I met my husband. A coffee purist. A whole milk and sugar kind of a guy. Before I knew what hit me, I was off the grocery store coffee I bought when it was on sale and grinding my own – our own – premium Columbian beans.
Today, I’m a 2% and agave gal. I can’t start my day without my coffee but more than two cups makes me jittery – perhaps because I don’t have a dish I pair it with! I like my coffee sans food. Just my warm mug to cradle and enjoy before the kids are up and another work day begins.